government

Health reform law sees both sides bolstering arguments

GOP leaders file briefs to support a 20-state suit to halt implementation, while associations representing most American hospitals do the same to defend the law.

By Doug Trapp — Posted Nov. 29, 2010

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Republican leaders in Congress and elsewhere are formalizing their opposition to the national health reform law by offering friend-of-the-court briefs supporting a 20-state lawsuit to block the law's implementation.

Meanwhile, six hospital associations, the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 75 state legislators and others have filed or requested permission to file amicus briefs defending the health reform law.

The 20-state suit is an attempt to block the health reform law's 2014 requirement for individuals to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. The plaintiffs argue that the U.S. Constitution does not give the federal government the power to penalize individuals for not buying health insurance.

The complaint also contests the mandatory state spending that will be required to meet the health reform law's expansion of Medicaid to people earning up to 133% of the federal poverty level in 2014.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is lead counsel on the lawsuit, filed against the Dept. of Health and Human Services in March by 16 attorneys general, four governors, the National Federation of Independent Business and two private citizens. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida is scheduled to hear arguments Dec. 16. McCollum has filed a motion for summary judgment.

McCollum sent letters on Nov. 17 asking three governors-elect and 10 state attorneys general -- all Republicans, eight of whom are newly elected -- to participate in the lawsuit as plaintiffs. He sent letters to the current or future attorneys general of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin and the incoming governors of Maine, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. Five of the states -- Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania -- already are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

GOP members in Congress have begun to line up to support the lawsuit. They are offering arguments similar to McCollum's -- that the health reform law goes too far by expanding Congress' powers under the Commerce Clause to penalize citizens for not buying health insurance.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R, Ohio) on Nov. 16 filed an amicus brief supporting the lawsuit. "Our economy simply cannot afford this unprecedented, unconstitutional power grab by the federal government," said Boehner, who is expected to be the next House speaker.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Ky.) and, at press time, 30 other Republican senators requested permission from the court to file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the suit. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, both Republicans, offered their own brief. Pawlenty wanted Minnesota to join the multistate lawsuit, but Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, a Democrat, declined his request to do so.

Others are standing up to support the health reform law. Six of the largest associations of hospitals and health systems in the country filed an amicus brief in favor of the law on Nov. 11, arguing that hospitals would be affected disproportionately if the law were repealed because hospitals would be forced to continue to care for millions of uninsured people. The groups are the American Hospital Assn., the Federation of American Hospitals, the National Assn. of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, the National Assn. of Children's Hospitals, the Catholic Health Assn. of the United States and the Assn. of American Medical Colleges.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also is working on a brief supporting the health reform law. Joining the law's defense is a group of more than 75 state legislators, nearly all Democratic, in 27 states, according to the Progressive States Network, a liberal state advocacy organization.

Washington state Sen. Karen Keiser is one of the state lawmakers who signed the amicus brief.

"It is incomprehensible how Washington state or its citizens suffer any loss with this new health care law. The time for partisan political posturing has passed," said Keiser, who also is co-chair of the Washington Legislature's Joint Select Committee in Health Reform Implementation.

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